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Battle of Vittoria, 21st June 1813

Battle of Vittoria, 21st June 1813


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Battle of Vittoria

Vittoria was the decisive battle of the Peninsular War; it was the last major battle against Napoleon's forces in Spain and opened the way for the British forces under Lord Wellington to invade France.

By mid 1812 the campaign in Spain had been going well for Lord Wellington but the British forces suffered a serious setback at the siege of Burgos in September and October of 1812 and were forced to retreat to the often fought over Ciudad Rodrigo. Despite this the British forces soon recovered. After a winter spent preparing they were ready by the spring of 1813 to go on the offensive again and expectations of a successful campaign were high in Britain. In May 1813 Wellington left Portugal for what he knew the last time - the final campaign of the peninsular war had begun.

Wellington's Army was in a good condition, for once not short of supplies or men as new infantry and some cavalry had arrived from England. Wellington was confident. He then cleaned house, using the time to get rid of troublesome or inefficient officers one of whom committed suicide rather than return to the UK in disgrace. Wellington also replaced his quartermaster general with George Murray who was to become Wellington’s right hand man.

The situation in the French Army was far different. Napoleon had begun to strip the army of troops he needed for the upcoming campaign in Germany. 15,000 veteran French troops were recalled (by this stage experienced French troops were in short supply, the last decade of war having left many dead or crippled). Spanish Guerrilla attacks were also tying down large numbers of French troops with two French armies totaling around 37,000 men engaged in counter insurgency. While the Spanish Guerrillas were busy destroying French morale, Napoleon's brother Joseph was continuing to be a poor replacement for his brother and Napoleon’s famed spy network was failing, leading him to believe the forces under Wellington were much fewer and in much poorer condition than in reality.

The early stages of the campaign went well with Wellington's army in two wings advancing easily and retaking Salamanca with little difficulty. By the 13th June Wellington's forces had forced the French to abandon the hated fortress of Burgos, which they blew up as they fled. Wellington now decided to advance via a very rugged and mountainous region rather than directly follow the retreating French. This proved highly successful as the British and Portuguese would have been slowed by French rearguards in well-prepared positions allowing French troops coming up from the south to join the main body. The French disregarded any possibility that Wellington would advance via the mountains which shows how badly they misjudged him. Wellington's plan was to cross the Ebro, which would allow him to use the port of Santander and therefore considerably shorten his supply lines. French intelligence proved poor which is understandable as they were a hostile army facing considerable guerrilla attacks and they lost contact with Wellington's army for 4 days. A few brief engagements followed on the 18th June as the French realised that Wellington had outflanked them. Joseph was so angry about the French General Maucune's performance during these initial engagements that he sent him back to France guarding a convoy thus sending away valuable troops. On the 20th of June Wellington halted to concentrate his army and make final plans for the upcoming battle, captured French prisoners had shown him how chaotic the enemies army was and he was confident of victory.

The battlefield of Vittoria is 12 miles long and 6 miles wide. The French army numbered 60,000 with 153 guns and deployed in a rough “L” shape. The Anglo-Portuguese, Spanish army had 78,000 men and 96 guns which Wellington spilt into four columns with the centre two under his personal command totaling 30,000 men. His plan was to hit the French line in several places, roll up the flanks and chop it into pieces. Another 12,000 Spanish troops under Giron had swept north and despite their efforts did not reach the battlefield in time. The battle began about 8am and it was a clear dry morning with good visibility across the battlefield. Within an hour the French position was under threat as Spanish troops took the entrance to the heights of Puebla threatening the French left flank. The French seeing the threat sent more troops in but the English and their allies held.

Meanwhile British and French troops fought to a stalemate over the village of Subjiana de Alava, which lies north of the heights of Puebla. Here the French were unable to retake the village but the allies were unable to advance out of it due to artillery fire. Picton’s troops to the north had been delayed and the British on the heights continued to advance. Believing the troops in the north were a distraction, the French weakened their centre to commit more troops to the battle for high ground on the left flank. This resulted in 2 of General Hill’s Brigades up on the heights drawing off more than two whole French divisions from the main line, more than Wellington could have hoped for.

Things were not going so well elsewhere for Wellington. General Graham's attack on the French right flank at the crossing of the Zadorra River north of Vittoria had run into determined opposition at the village of Gamara Mayor. Wellington was becoming concerned, as by noon his centre columns under Picton and Dalhousie had not yet arrived. When they finally arrived Picton impatient for orders led his division to take the bridge of Mendoza. The French had by the afternoon been driven from the heights and were being squeezed into the area around Vittoria as the allies drove at them from the centre and left flanks. The French were now under threat from both flanks and the centre with an artillery duel between 75 allied guns and 76 French guns being the biggest artillery battle of the war and the largest amount of artillery Wellington would have command of until Waterloo. By 4 pm Wellington was preparing for the final stroke. Outflanked and under pressure the French finally broke. Only the failure by the allies to take Gamara Mayor prevented the French being cut off completely and destroyed.

The retreating French convoy contained much of Joseph's ‘court’ and contained 3,000 carriages and stretched for 12 miles by the time it reached Vittoria. For such a large convoy there was no escape from the Allied troops eager for plunder and among the French convoy were wagons newly arrived from France containing over 5 million gold francs! Joseph himself was nearly captured by the British 10th Hussars and had to leave all his personal belongings behind even his chamber pot. The huge amount of treasure saved the French from complete destruction as looting began by both sides on a huge scale and Wellington only retrieved 250,000 francs! The Allies lost around 5,000 men; the French lost around 8,000 but also vast amounts of money, equipment, wagons, artillery guns and other treasures, but surprisingly no Imperial Eagles. The news of the defeat spread throughout Europe and Napoleon's old enemies Austrian, Russia and Prussia all pressed for war. Vittoria not only marked the end of French ambitions in Spain but the beginning of the end for Napoleon.

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Battle of Vittoria, 21st June 1813 - History

Wellington's campaign of 1813 saw his combined British-Portuguese-Spanish army of 79,000 strike northwards towards Burgos without allowing Joseph's French armies to concentrate. From Burgos, Wellington out-manoeuvred Joseph by wheeling through the mountains to the north. On 19th June, Joseph's combined force of 66,000 began to take up a defensive position west of the town of Vitoria. The French position was enclosed to the south by the Heights of Puebla and to the west and north by the Zadorra river. Surprisingly, none of the bridges spanning the Zadorra were destroyed. Joseph deployed his forces in three parallel lines facing west, the expected direction of attack. The front line was commanded by Gazan, the second by D'Erlon and the third by Reille. Between the French first and second lines stood the Knoll of Arinez from where Joseph exercised command.

Wellington, while having no intention of attempting a direct attack from the west, had to move quickly before Joseph received support from Clausel's approaching army.

At 8am on 21st June, Wellington's co-ordinated attack was opened by Hill's 2nd Division, Morillo's division of Spanish infantry and Cadogan's Brigade crossing the Zadorra at Puebla to attack the heights overlooking the French position. Shortly afterwards - and some 15km to the east - Graham's force comprising the 1st and 5th Divisions, Pack's and Bradford's Portuguese Brigades and Longa's Spanish Brigade began to press from the north against the road from Vitoria to Bayonne. By noon the road had been cut.

Crucially, Wellington learned late in the morning that the French had left the bridge across the Zadorra at Trespuentes unguarded. Kempt's Brigade was immediately despatched from the Light Division to seize the bridge. Concealed by high ground on the hairpin bend of the Zadorra, the light infantry were able to take the bridge virtually unopposed.

The pressure on the French position now rapidly became unbearable as allied attacks were pressed home from several directions. Picton's 3rd Division - supported by a flanking attack by Kempt's Brigade - stormed over the Zadorra to the east of Trespuentes. From the west, Cole's 4th Division and the rest of Alten's Light Division crossed the Zadorra. Meanwhile, Hill continued to press from the south.

Throughout the afternoon, the French were gradually rolled-up from the west before being finally sent into headlong retreat.

Wellington's casualties from the battle amounted to 5,100. Joseph suffered not only 8,000 casualties but also the loss of virtually all his artillery and transport. Joseph's army was spent as a fighting force.

The battlefield of Vitoria is another of those in the Peninsula to have been bisected by a motorway, in this case the N1. The unguarded bridge by which Kempt's Brigade crossed the Zadorra has remained intact however, and makes a rewarding visit.

The easiest approach is to leave the N102 10km west of Vitoria (Gasteiz) following the road signposted to Mendoza. The Knoll of Arinez lies east of the Mendoza road. After crossing the Zadorra by a modern bridge, a left turn leads directly to the village of Trespuentes and Kempt's bridge.

The hill which shielded Kempt's Brigade from the view of the French, as it rounded the hairpin bend of the Zadorra, is seen slightly south of east from the bridge.

Left: The bridge at Trespuentes over which Kempt's Brigade crossed the River Zadorra

"Wellington in the Peninsula 1808-1814" by Jac Weller, published by Greenhill Books 1992, ISBN 1853671274.

"A History of the Peninsular War, Volume VI" by Sir Charles Oman, published by Greenhill Books 1995, ISBN 1853672262.


Battle of Vitoria

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Battle of Vitoria, (June 21, 1813), decisive battle of the Peninsular War that finally broke Napoleon’s power in Spain. The battle was fought between a combined English, Spanish, and Portuguese army numbering 72,000 troops and 90 guns under Arthur Wellesley, 1st duke of Wellington, and a French army numbering 57,000 troops and 150 guns commanded by King Joseph Bonaparte. The French occupied a defensive position in the basin of Vitoria, an area about 12 mi (19 km) long and 7 mi deep, surrounded by mountains and protected to the north and west by the Zadorra River, which was spanned by several lightly held bridges. Just after 8 am the allies advanced in four columns against the whole front, crossed the river at several bridges to the west, and eventually compelled the French left and centre to withdraw in order to cover Vitoria. The French right, after heavy fighting, finally gave way. By 7 pm the French were in full retreat toward Pamplona, leaving behind vast quantities of plunder, baggage, and all their artillery. The French losses (killed, wounded, and captured) were about 8,000 and those of the allies about 5,000. By their victory the British and their allies gained control of the Basque provinces, and compelled the French forces to retreat over the Pyrenees and back into France.


Battle of Vitoria, (21 June 1813)

The year of 1812 had positively glowed with success for the Anglo-Portuguese forces in the Iberian Peninsula, but it ended inauspiciously, with the failure to take the castle of Burgos, besieged by the Marquis of (later the Duke of) Wellington in September and October. The Allied siege operations provided one of the more unhappy sides to Wellington’s campaign in the Peninsula, but at least the army was successful on three occasions (at Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, and Salamanca), albeit after some tremendous bludgeoning, which cost the lives of thousands of British soldiers. At Burgos, however, the operation was flawed from the start, and a combination of bad weather, inadequate siege train, and plain mismanagement caused a despondent Wellington to abandon the dreary place on 19 October.

The outcome of the whole sad episode was a retreat that, to those who survived it, bore too many shades of the retreat to Corunna almost four years earlier. Once again the discipline of the army broke down, drunkenness was rife, and hundreds of Wellington’s men were left floundering in the mud to die or be taken prisoner by the French. It was little consolation to Wellington that while his army limped back to Portugal, Napoleon too was about to see his own army disintegrate in the Russian snows. The retreat to Portugal finally ended in late November when the Allied army concentrated on the border, close to Ciudad Rodrigo. The year had thus ended in bitter disappointment for Wellington, but nothing could alter the fact that taken as a whole 1812 had seen the army achieve some of its greatest successes, and once it had recovered it was to embark on the road to even greater success.

During the winter of 1812-1813, Wellington contemplated his strategy for the forthcoming campaign. His army received reinforcements, which brought it up to a strength of around 80,000 men, of whom 52,000 were British. The French believed that any Allied thrust would have to be made through central Spain, an assumption Wellington fostered by sending Lieutenant General Sir Rowland Hill, with 30,000 men and six brigades of cavalry, in the direction of Salamanca. Wellington, in fact, accompanied Hill as far as Salamanca to help deceive the French further. The main Allied advance, however, was to be made to the north, by the left wing of the army, some 66,000-strong, under Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Graham, who would cross the river Douro and march through northern Portugal and the Tras-o-Montes before swinging down behind the French defensive lines. The advance would be aimed at Burgos before moving on to the Pyrenees and finally into southern France. If all went well, Wellington would be able to shift his supply bases from Lisbon to the northern coast of Spain and in so doing, avoid overextending his lines of communication.

The advance began on 22 May 1813. Wellington left Hill’s force on the twenty-eighth and joined Graham the following day. By 3 June his entire force, numbering around 80,000 men, was on the northern side of the river Douro, much to the surprise of the French, who began to hurry north to meet them. Such was the speed of Wellington’s advance that the French were forced to abandon Burgos, this time without any resistance, and the place was blown up by the departing garrison on the thirteenth. Wellington passed the town and on the nineteenth was just a short distance to the east of Vitoria, which lay astride the great road to France. The battlefield of Vitoria lay along the floor of the valley of the river Zadorra, some 6 miles wide and 10 miles in length. The eastern end of this valley was open and led to Vitoria itself, while the other three sides of the valley consisted of mountains, although those to the west were heights rather than mountains. The Zadorra itself wound its way from the southwest corner of the valley to the north, where it ran along the foot of the mountains overlooking the northern side of the valley. The river was impassable to artillery but was crossed by four bridges to the west of the valley and four more to the north.

Wellington devised an elaborate plan of attack that involved dividing his army into four columns. On the right, Hill, with 20,000 men consisting of the 2nd Division and Major General Pablo Morillo’s Spaniards, was to gain the heights of Puebla on the south of the valley and force the Puebla pass. The two center columns were both under Wellington’s personal command. The right center column consisted of the Light and 4th Divisions, together with four brigades of cavalry, who were to advance through the village of Nanclares. The left center column consisted of the 3rd and 7th Divisions, which were to advance through the valley of the Bayas at the northwest corner of the battlefield and attack the northern flank and rear of the French position. The fourth column, under Graham, consisted of the 1st and 5th Divisions, General Francisco Longa’s Spaniards, and two Portuguese brigades. Graham was to march around the mountains to the north and by entering the valley at its northeastern corner, was to sever the main road to Bayonne.

King Joseph Bonaparte’s French army numbered 66,000 men with 138 guns, but although another French force under General Bertrand, baron Clausel was hurrying up from Pamplona, it did not arrive in time, and Joseph had to fight the battle with about 14,000 fewer men than Wellington.

On the morning of 21 June Wellington peered through his telescope and saw Joseph, Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, and General Honoré Théophile, comte Gazan and their staffs gathered together on top of the hill of Arinez, a round eminence that dominated the center of the French line. It was a moist, misty morning, and through the drizzle he saw, away to his right, Hill’s troops as they made their way through the Heights of Puebla. It was here that the battle opened at about 8:30 A. M., when Hill’s troops drove the French from their positions and took the heights.

Two hours later, away to the northeast, the crisp crackle of musketry signaled Graham’s emergence from the mountains, as his men swept down over the road to Bayonne, thus cutting off the main French escape route. Thereafter, Graham’s troops probed warily westward and met with stiff resistance, particularly at the village of Gamara Mayor. Moreover, Wellington’s instructions bade him proceed with caution, orders that Graham obeyed faithfully. Although his column engaged the French in several hours of bloody fighting on the north bank of the Zadorra, it was not until the collapse of the French army late in the day that he unleashed the full power of his force upon the French.

There was little fighting on the west of the battlefield until about noon, when, acting upon information from a Spanish peasant, Wellington ordered Major General James Kempt’s brigade of the Light Division to take the undefended bridge over the Zadorra at Tres Puentes. This was duly accomplished and brought Kempt to a position just below the hill of Arinez, and while the rest of the Light Division crossed the bridge of Villodas, Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton’s “Fighting” 3rd Division stormed across the bridge of Mendoza on their right. Picton was faced by two French divisions supported by artillery, but these guns were taken in flank by Kempt’s riflemen and were forced to retire having fired just a few salvoes. Picton’s men rushed on, and, supported by the Light Division and by Cole’s 4th Division, which had also crossed at Villodas, the 3rd Division rolled over the French troops on this flank like a juggernaut. A brigade of the 7th Division (Lieutenant General George Ramsay, ninth Earl of Dalhousie) joined them in their attack, and together they drove the French from the hill of Arinez. Soon afterward, what was once Joseph’s vantage point was being used by Wellington to direct the battle.

It was just after 3:00 P. M., and the 3rd, 7th, and Light Divisions were fighting hard to force the French from the village of Margarita. This small village marked the right flank of the first French line, and after heavy fighting the defenders were thrust from it in the face of overwhelming pressure from Picton’s division. To the south of the hill of Arinez, Gazan’s divisions were still holding firm and, supported by French artillery, were more than holding their own against Lieutenant General Sir Lowry Cole’s 4th Division. With Margarita gone, however, the right flank of the French was left unprotected.

It was a critical time for Joseph’s army. On its right, Jean-Baptiste Drouet, comte d’Erlon’s division was being steadily pushed back by Picton, Dalhousie, and Kempt, whose divisions seemed irresistible. Away to his left, Joseph saw Hill’s corps streaming from the heights of Puebla, while behind him Graham’s corps barred the road home. Only Gazan’s divisions held firm, but when Cole’s 4th Division struck at about 5:00 P. M., the backbone of the French army snapped. Wellington thrust the 4th Division into the gap between d’Erlon and Gazan, as a sort of wedge, and as the British troops on the French right began to push d’Erlon back, Gazan suddenly realized he was in danger of being cut off. At this point Joseph finally realized that he was left with little choice but to give the order for a general retreat.

The resulting disintegration of the French army was as sudden as it was spectacular. The collapse was astonishing, as every man, from Joseph downward, looked to his own safety. All arms and ammunition, equipment, and packs were thrown away by the French in an effort to hasten their flight. It was a case of every man for himself. Only General Honoré, comte Reille’s corps, which had been engaged with Graham’s forces, managed to maintain some sort of order, but even Reille’s men could not avoid being swept along with the tide of fugitives streaming back toward Vitoria. With the collapse of all resistance, Graham swept down upon what units remained in front of him, though there was little more to be done but round up prisoners, who were taken in their hundreds. The French abandoned the whole of their baggage train, as well as 415 caissons, 151 of their 153 guns, and 100 wagons. Two thousand prisoners were taken.

More incredible, however, was the fantastic amount of treasure abandoned by Joseph as he fled. The accumulated plunder he had acquired in Spain was abandoned to the eager clutches of the Allied soldiers, who could not believe what they found. Never before nor since in the history of warfare has such an immense amount of booty been captured by an opposing force. Ironically, this treasure probably saved what was left of Joseph’s army, for while Wellington’s men stopped to fill their pockets with gold, silver, jewels, and valuable coins, the French were making good their escape toward Pamplona. Such was Wellington’s disgust at the behavior of his men afterward that he was prompted to write to the Earl Bathurst, the secretary of state for war and the colonies. It was the letter in which he used the famous expression “scum of the earth” to describe his men.

The Allies suffered 5,100 casualties during the battle, while the French losses were put at around 8,000. The destruction of Joseph’s army is hardly reflected in this figure, however, and the repercussions of the defeat were far reaching. News of Wellington’s victory galvanized the Allies in northern Europe-still smarting after defeats at Lützen and Bautzen-into renewed action and even helped induce Austria to enter the war on the side of the Allies. In Britain, meanwhile, there were wild celebrations the length of the country, while Wellington himself was created field marshal. In Spain, Napoleon’s grip on the country was severely loosened, and there was now little but a few French-held fortresses between Wellington’s triumphant army and France.

References and further reading Esdaile, Charles J. 2003. The Peninsular War: A New History. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Fletcher, Ian. 1998. Vittoria 1813: Wellington Sweeps the French from Spain. Oxford: Osprey. Gates, David. 2001. The Spanish Ulcer: A History of the Peninsular War. New York: Da Capo. Glover, Michael. 1996. Wellington’s Peninsular Victories: The Battles of Busaco, Salamanca, Vitoria and the Nivelle. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.—.2001. The Peninsular War, 1807-1814: A Concise Military History. London: Penguin. Napier, W. F. P. 1992. A History of the War in the Peninsula. 6 vols. London: Constable. (Orig. pub. 1828.) Oman, Charles. 2005. A History of the Peninsular War. 7 vols. London: Greenhill. (Orig. pub. 1902-1930.) Paget, Julian. 1992. Wellington’s Peninsular War: Battles and Battlefields. London: Cooper. Uffindell, Andrew. 2003. The National Army Museum Book of Wellington’s Armies: Britain’s Triumphant Campaigns in the Peninsula and at Waterloo, 1808-1815. London: Sedgwick and Jackson. Weller, Jac. 1992. Wellington in the Peninsula. London: Greenhill.


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In the pre-computer days, we used to have school handouts made on ditto machines or spirit duplicators that printed in purple ink. Once photocopiers became more common, we sometimes needed to make photocopies of these pale materials. One trick was to insert the sheet with the purple printing into a translucent yellow report cover, so that the ink appeared as black text. In this way, you could make a black-and-white photocopy with darker printing.

I downloaded the image and experimented a bit with Irfanview. On the "Image" menu there is a setting to turn the image to a Negative, which sometimes works to make writing more clear. However, doing this rendered the image nearly unreadable, so I went back to the original and started over.

Playing around with the different color channels, I got the writing to turn black on a greenish background. Having black text might make the letter easier to read.

Perhaps with Photoshop, you could use these techniques and others to simulate the process of overlaying the document with a color which is across the color wheel from the ink color, similar to what I used to do with the purple-and-yellow trick.

Cutting a photocopy into strips, or masking it so that only one line appears at a time, may make it easier to focus on just that line. Blowing it up may help also.

For the handwriting itself, there is an online tutorial at the UK National Archives. The crossed lines might be easier to read, if you could find documents in the same style of handwriting which are not crossed, and practice first on those. Try to find or make a letter chart to use for reference. You have the opening "Vittoria 29th June 1813" and "Dear" (perhaps "Dear Sirs"?) to start off with.

We can give you general tips here, but it's not practical to write answers which are transcriptions of an entire multi-page document. See the related question Reading a Will to Get Land Information and other questions marked palaeography for other ideas.

One thing you might try is finding printed accounts of the Battle of Vittoria, from sources like Google Books or the British Newspaper Archives, that might give you a feeling for the vocabulary that might be used in an account like this.

As you need help reading specific lines, feel free to post new questions asking for help with line-readings.


The Battle of Vitoria – 21 June 1813

In 1812, the French were driven from Madrid and their power seemed to be waning, particularly with Napoleon’s army having been weakened by the disastrous attempt to invade Russia. But as they tried to consolidate their gains, the British, led by Wellington, encountered stubborn resistance from the French.

With French reinforcements on the way, Wellington decided to fall back, giving up many of the gains won in 1812. During the following winter, he rebuilt his army and in the spring of 1813, launched a new attack into the north of Spain. Eventually he came up against the French at Vitoria.

The importance of a bridge

Wellington’s army of British, Portuguese and Spanish troops was positioned to the north and west of the French, led by Joseph Bonaparte. The French had their back to the town of Vitoria and their position was strengthened by the presence of the Zadorra River, which separated them from their attackers.

However, the French failed to destroy the bridges across the river, and made no attempt to defend them. In the early stages of his attack, Wellington was told of these bridges and his army seized at least one with minimal casualties.

By attacking the French at several points from the north, rather from the west as they expected, Wellington secured positions from which his troops could not be driven. One of the most decisive blows was struck by Thomas Picton’s 3rd Division, attacking from the north across the river. Eventually the French army broke under pressure, and many of them fled.

While he had achieved victory on the battlefield, Wellington was not able to destroy the French army. His opponents left Vitoria in haste, leaving behind over 150 cannons and their baggage trains, full of valuables. The British and their allies could not resist this prize, and stopped their pursuit to help themselves to the spoils of war.

The significance of the battle

By 1813 the French were on the defensive, with Napoleon’s armies having been weakened by his disaster in Russia, and the forces of Europe allied against him. Defeat at Vitoria helped confirm that the French had lost control of Spain, and within 9 months the Peninsula War would be over.

For a firsthand description of the scene at the end of the battle, read ‘A live report from the Battle of Vitoria’.


The Battle of Vitoria, 21st June 1813

The Battle of Vitoria in June 1813 in Northern Spain can be seen as a decisive moment in the eventual downfall of the Napoleonic Empire. Although the French empire would survive for another two years, the battle at Vitoria in Spain marks the collapse of Napoleonic rule in Spain and therefore one of the first crises of Bonaparte’s reign. The allied army under the command of the then Marquess of Wellington successfully captured or destroyed 151 guns and inflicted 8,000 French casualties, breaking the French military presence in Spain. While it was a decisive victory the allied casualties was over 5,000 and they had missed the opportunity to capture the King of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother.

This is the one post in a series documenting a number of battles fought by the Duke of Wellington and the Allied forces of Britain, Portugal and Spain during the Napoleonic Wars.

The object is a small brass box with a profile of Arthur Wellesley and ‘The Duke of Wellington’ inscribed on it. The reverse is inscribed with ‘By his consummate skill as a general he has raised the British Army to the highest excellences, & himself the most noble, & exalted hero, in the annals of history.’ Inside the box have there are handwritten discs with the names and dates of battles.


Battle Notes

British Army
• Commander: Wellington
• 5 Command Cards
• Optional 6 Tactician Cards
• *Move First

3 1 1 7 1 1 2 1 1 2 3 1 1 1

French Army
• Commander: Joseph Bonaparte
• 4 Command Cards
• Optional 2 Tactician Cards
• *Move First

8 4 2 2 3 1 3

Victory
9 Banners

Special Rules
• *Move First. At the start of the battle, each player simultaneously selects and reveals one Command card from their respective hands. The card each player selects will be the card that each player must use on his first turn. The side that will move first is the side with the card that orders the lowest printed number of units. Counter-Attack, Elan, First Strike, Leadership and Rally Tactic Cards cannot be played. Remaining Tactic Cards are assumed to order the maximum number of allowable units. If a tie, the British player moves first.


The Battle of Vitoria – 21 June 1813

In 1812, the French were driven from Madrid and their power seemed to be waning, particularly with Napoleon’s army having been weakened by the disastrous attempt to invade Russia. But as they tried to consolidate their gains, the British, led by Wellington, encountered stubborn resistance from the French.

With French reinforcements on the way, Wellington decided to fall back, giving up many of the gains won in 1812. During the following winter, he rebuilt his army and in the spring of 1813, launched a new attack into the north of Spain. Eventually he came up against the French at Vitoria.

The importance of a bridge

Wellington’s army of British, Portuguese and Spanish troops was positioned to the north and west of the French, led by Joseph Bonaparte. The French had their back to the town of Vitoria and their position was strengthened by the presence of the Zadorra River, which separated them from their attackers.

However, the French failed to destroy the bridges across the river, and made no attempt to defend them. In the early stages of his attack, Wellington was told of these bridges and his army seized at least one with minimal casualties.

By attacking the French at several points from the north, rather from the west as they expected, Wellington secured positions from which his troops could not be driven. One of the most decisive blows was struck by Thomas Picton’s 3rd Division, attacking from the north across the river. Eventually the French army broke under pressure, and many of them fled.

While he had achieved victory on the battlefield, Wellington was not able to destroy the French army. His opponents left Vitoria in haste, leaving behind over 150 cannons and their baggage trains, full of valuables. The British and their allies could not resist this prize, and stopped their pursuit to help themselves to the spoils of war.

The significance of the battle

By 1813 the French were on the defensive, with Napoleon’s armies having been weakened by his disaster in Russia, and the forces of Europe allied against him. Defeat at Vitoria helped confirm that the French had lost control of Spain, and within 9 months the Peninsula War would be over.

For a firsthand description of the scene at the end of the battle, read ‘A live report from the Battle of Vitoria’.


Watch the video: Wellingtons Triumph: Vitoria 1813 (May 2022).